Well said, Mr President


            Mr Obama has shown wisdom in asking Congress for approval of any military strike against Syria. His words were well chosen. Correctly identifying the American public, like the British public, as war weary, he ascribed to them a good motive. He said they understood the USA cannot resolve the deep and ancient conflicts of Syria by bombing.

            That is exactly the main point some of us were making in the Commons on Thursday. Far from marginalising the UK or rewriting the UK’s future role as a non power, our debate has clearly sparked some new thinking in the Oval Office. The President referred to our vote. He either wants the US Congress to do the same, to get him off the hook, or for the US Congress to explain and define a military action he could take that could unite the American people again behind such intervention.

            I think the US Congress will find it difficult to overcome well based war weariness by the American people. It is now their shared political challenge with the President, who understands in a  democracy you need broad support if you are to visit death and destruction on other countries, however evil their governments.

            Those of us who did not support limited  cruise missile attacks on Syria did so for the best of reasons. Such attacks can kill the innocent as well as the guilty, they can harden the resolve of bad men, and they can get in the way of the eventual political process needed to resolve Syria’s internal conflicts. Sometimes you have to tell your “closest ally” just that, and sometimes he is wise enough to listen.


  1. Mike Stallard
    September 1, 2013

    The thing that strikes me in all this is how one day the “Special Relationship” is now doomed, the world is about to see Britain as Luxembourg etc etc. The very next day, Britain is the world leader in democratic values and Parliament is supreme!

    Headline in Labour List? Firefighters are to lose some of their pension rights!

    1. Richard1
      September 1, 2013

      At least with Democrat administrations in recent decades the special relationship is meaningless. John Kerry’s absurd and petulant snub to the sacrifice of so much UK blood and money supporting US wars in recent years by describing France as the US’s oldest ally shows this. As does Clinton’s schoomzing with the IRA / Sinn Fein and Obama’s failure to support the UK over the very clear issue of the Falkland Islands.

  2. alan jutson
    September 1, 2013


    I think President Obama has been having second thoughts for some time now.

    His body language and his tone of voice have been different in interviews for more than a week now, and certainly way before the result of the UK vote was taken and known.

    It will be interesting how this now plays out over in the US, where they seem to relish the use of stand off weapons, but hate the thought of a body bag count.

    Having used stand off weapons, can you ever not end up having to send in the troops the clear up the ground, and root out the bad guys.

    1. peter davies
      September 1, 2013

      There is also the complexity that there are ‘allegedly’ many Russian troops on the ground advising and supporting the regime.

      Start bombing military targets and you run the risk of coming into contact with the Russians who I highly doubt would take this sitting down. Thats before Israel and Iran are mentioned – the US is playing a highly dangerous game – all based on flimsy evidence, lets just hope US Congress votes it down.

  3. nina Andreeva
    September 1, 2013

    Here is Obama’s intelligence assessment of what went happened on 21/08. Essentially the only evidence he has are the Youtube videos so no wonder he cannot get his way with this one. Perhaps we can hold Obama in a better light, as there has been no similar event to the Gulf of Tonkin incident (Viet Nam) or sinking of the USS Maine (Spain) which is the usual way the American government prepares its citizens for war.

    (link removed as it did not work ed)

  4. matthu
    September 1, 2013

    I think the world would be truly astounded if Congress supports immediate military action against Syria. They do have the advantage of being able to study the points already made so strongly in the UK debate so it remains to be seen how they manage to rescue Obama from his previously stated position but inconceivable that they will cause him to modify his policy.

    If there is any change in policy the world may reflect that by referring this issue to its own parliament over the past few days the UK appears to have enhanced its influence over world events while the EU has struggled to demonstrate a unified voice: France has been in favour of military action, Germany has been opposed and who knows (or cares)what Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Poland or any of the other 20-odd members of the EU thought.

    Never again let it be said that the UK needs to be sitting at the ‘top-table’ of the EU in order to have any influence over world affairs: it’s a convenient lie.

    1. matthu
      September 1, 2013

      typo: inconceivable that they will NOT cause him to modify his policy.

    2. uanime5
      September 1, 2013

      How exactly does the UK deciding to do nothing give it influence over world affairs? Especially when other countries are planning to do something.

      1. matthu
        September 1, 2013

        The UK did not decide to do “nothing”. They decided to give the decision over to Parliament instead of rushing headlong into a poorly thought through and premature attack.

        The US are going to do the same by giving the decision over to Congress.

      2. Edward2
        September 1, 2013

        Doing nothing is sometimes the correct decision.
        Politicians who have a feeling that “something must be done” are ones who have often rushed in and made wrong decisions in the past.

        1. Bazman
          September 2, 2013

          It might be the correct decision, but don’t forget that doing nothing is doing something. Especially important point for hard working conservatives much of whose ideology is based on this.

    3. peter davies
      September 1, 2013

      All this ‘top table’ nonsense is no doubt something dreamt up by someone like Mandelson. The only ‘top table’ is for having a UK representative to negotiate new rules in the EU and given that 70% of all economic activity stays within the UK, 15% odd with the EU and the other 15% ROW is makes the whole thing a complete nonsense.

      We should leave the EU, apply their rules to the 15% exported to the EU like any other country and go it alone.

  5. Cheshire Girl
    September 1, 2013

    I’m unhappy to read this morning that Lord Ashdown has said that Parliament could ‘reconsider its position’ . What does that mean? I thought the matter was settled with the vote on Friday. It seems not!

    Reply I don’t think Lord Ashdown speaks for the Commons on this!

    1. lifelogic
      September 1, 2013

      Paddy Ashdown, as most in his party, has a long history or being wrong on almost every issue. Alas Cameron and many Tories now have fallen for much the same mistaken views.

      Let us hope Obama can still avoid doing anything that will make matters even worse in Syria.

    2. A.Sedgwick
      September 1, 2013

      He was interviewed at length latish last night on BBC 24 News on a computer link to his home and for some reason from a BBC man in Beirut. I find the thread of his views frequently difficult to follow.

    3. lifelogic
      September 1, 2013

      Indeed being consistently wrong for most of your life, seems to be the very best way into the House of Lords, that or perhaps giving money to political parties, or perhaps being a token from some minority group or a mad, quack science, “green”.

      I see in the Sunday Times today that Blair has learned nothing from his hugely damaging, counter productive, warmongering on the basis of blatant lies.

    4. Gary
      September 1, 2013

      The people have spoken and Ashdown “had the worst day of his life”

    5. Richard1
      September 1, 2013

      I don’t know what the pro-bombing proposal actually is. Shirley Williams in discussion on this said a symbolic act such as one missile was what was needed. If so that would make a laughing stock of the US. I assume therefore that the theoretical plan is 1000 or so cruise missiles over a few days. That will presumably reduce a lot of buildings to rubble and kill thousands of people, many of whom may or may not be Syrian forces, and those people may or may not have anything to do with Assad’s Chemical weapons. The argument is all over the place. There has been no attempt to say what this might achieve. It is very worrying that Cameron, Hague (who I’ve always admired) et al can have got themselves into such a mess. They haven’t thought it through, haven’t taken or listened to the right advice and can’t say what it is they are trying to achieve. The only coherent voice on the pro-bombing side is the US hawk John McCain who says its clear that what its about is regime change. That at least is honest, and out govt should be honest and realistic as well.

      In terms of UKpolitics however, the main lesson from this is what a disaster it would be if Ed Miliband ever became PM. He has played duplicitous politics on a supposed issue of principle. He is absolutely unfit to hold office.

      1. Denis Cooper
        September 1, 2013

        But the Syrian “rebels” would be very disappointed if it was just a single missile, presumably with “Watch out Assad” chalked on the side of it as a “message”.

        This is from the Telegraph website last Thursday:


        “Gen Abdelaziz Shallan, the most senior defector from President Bashar al-Assad’s ranks and now a senior figure in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) command, said that a sustained bombing campaign must last at least 10 days, not the two or three thought to be favoured by attack planners.

        Gen Shallan told The Daily Telegraph he had made his concerns clear to an American general who had consulted with the opposition fighters in recent days. Opposition fears have been fuelled by Syria moves to insulate itself from an attack.

        The Syrian regime has been shifting its military hardware from established bases, while the senior regime leadership is readying to take refuge from bombardment in fortified bunkers around Damascus.

        “Disciplinary action by the West in response to the use of chemical weapons cannot topple the regime but one with limited longevity cannot destroy enough military targets,” he said. “The scheduled attack should last at least ten days if it is to seriously weaken the regime and its ability to attack the Syrian people. Otherwise its like chopping the tail of a snake. ””

        Reply The UK’s advice on legality said that it would only be legal to take action to stop future chemical atrocities. That would presumably limit bombs and missiles to attacking the means to control and deliver chemical weapons, as it would not be wise to bomb the weapons stocks themselves. The Syrian opposition should understand that the UK – and probably the US – have ruled out intervening to shift the balance of forces within the civil war.

        1. Denis Cooper
          September 2, 2013

          Apparently the Syrian opposition doesn’t understand that:


          Depending on how the poison gas has been weaponised it may not be possible to destroy the means of delivery without destroying both the air force and/or the longer range artillery.

          Reply: A huge task, which would of course entail defeating the Assad regime, something the proponents of limited intervention say they do not want to do.

    6. Leslie Singleton
      September 1, 2013

      John–This is all now a bit of a farrago and I for one, despite what you or anyone else says, continue to think that the Commons would jump at a half way decent new motion just so long as Cameron stops telling us about his (always flawed) judgement (flawed on any subject that is, like the last 10 or so).

      One thought is that, in the understandable desire to pass a (magic word) limited motion and because, best I understand, “we” seek only to send a message by way of “punishment” and perhaps the future potential of stand off bombing, instead of killing people in cold blood, maybe the authorization should be for just one missile to be lobbed in, and even then only after proclaiming exactly (SatNav?) where it is going to go, to minimise loss of life, and await the result of that. This would be two steps away from boots on the ground and with minimum loss of life.

      Reply There are at least 80 Conservative MPs against the use of force in Syria, as we told the PM and whips some considerable time ago.

      1. Leslie Singleton
        September 1, 2013

        Question following Reply–So is it the case that even if it is proved unequivocally that the regime sent the gas you and yours think it is OK to do nothing? Presumably you have read Boris on the subject.

        Reply As I set out in the Commons, I do not think killing people and blowing up buildings would work as a means of “preventing” future atrocities. This is a regime that is prepared to accept very high levels of death and injury. I would put more effort into the peace/negotiation process, and make clear that any senior person committing a war crime should expect to face justice one day in the International Courts. In the meantime they would not be able to leave their country, receive money from outside etc. A whole series of personal sanctions should apply to those we suspect.

    7. peter davies
      September 1, 2013

      its just as well Lord Ashdown is a Lord then.

  6. JimF
    September 1, 2013

    It seems we can divide politicians into 2 classes on this affair alone; those with the people and those who are out of touch.

    1. lifelogic
      September 1, 2013

      Those “with the people” and those who regard them as stupid cash cows to be
      milked , ignored and stripped of all power & any democracy by the EU perhaps.

  7. Gary
    September 1, 2013

    Neither Cameron nor Obama want this war. There are people around them who appear desperate for war. You only have to look at the hysterical response to the no vote here in most sections of the media, against the will of the people. Well done to Cameron. Now I hope congress delivers for Obama. We shall now see how powerful the lobby is.

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    September 1, 2013

    Why was it necessary for our Parliament to be recalled to endorse the use of military strikes against Syria when the USA Congress will not consider it until it reconvenes in two weeks?

    Reply The UK government did not know that last week.

    1. Brian Tomkinson
      September 1, 2013

      Reply to reply,
      That doesn’t answer the question of why Cameron recalled Parliament in order to try and rush this through.

  9. Bert Young
    September 1, 2013

    There is little point in the US making a delayed strike on Syria . The “targets” have been shifted . By next week Obama will have been subjected to an opposing view from Putin and been convinced by a hardening public opinion that he should not authorise military intervention . Cameron meanwhile will have digested what it means to have his leadership watered down ; he may retaliate against those who let him down , but , the ensuing publicity will only make his public posture worse .

  10. margaret brandreth-j
    September 1, 2013

    I don’t feel as though our relationship with the USA is damaged. It is a silly stance to take. Where countries disagree internally it doesn’t mean to say that the overall aim is to do wrong for that country , it simply means that there are differing views on how to achieve what is best and how it is paced globally, why should that be any different between countries. It is a bit kids play ground stuff.’ I won’t be friends with the USA if they are friends with France and I won’t play with France if they take he USA’s side.’
    And of course there is Syria.

    1. margaret brandreth-j
      September 1, 2013

      the not he

  11. cosmic
    September 1, 2013

    A face saving way of backing away from a rash decision which he would have been perfectly happy to pursue, if he’d had company.

  12. English Pensioner
    September 1, 2013

    I’m in favour of military action if only I could be convinced that it would achieve something. But try as I might, I can’t think of the types of targets which might “punish” Assad without merely adding to the death toll on both sides and alienating both sides of the conflict as well as hardening anti-British attitudes in the Muslim world.
    Our governments both need to have well thought through plans and objectives, both for the short and longer term which will convince the electorate, or at least their elected representatives, that the action is worthwhile.
    This was the problem with both Iraq and Afghanistan, very little thought about the future, and neither the British or the US public will let this happen again.

    PS. Why does the spelling checker on your blog’s comment always revert to American English. No other site seems to do this!

    1. forthurst
      September 1, 2013

      Not actually my area of expertise but from a purely logical point of view, since you are editing your Comment in your own browser because if JR’s website had a spellchecker installed, you would have no access to it, and as you claim that JR’s site is the only one to give you this problem, I suspect that your browser is using JR’s website suffix, ‘.com’, which is American, as the determinant of spellchecker version, so the solution would be to uninstall the American English spellchecker in your browser forcing it to default to the ‘British’ English checker which you claim to be able to use. (Assuming the computer logic is coded correctly)

  13. Andyvan
    September 1, 2013

    Obama hasn’t decided to ask Congress because of wisdom. He’s been forced into it because 20 plus members of Congress have threatened to start impeachment proceedings if he starts another war without asking them. As his international coalition now amounts to Saudi Arabia and Israel bombing Syria is not exactly the most popular idea he’s ever had probably because the “evidence” he’s trying to use is even less convincing than all the other times the Yanks have wanted to start another round of slaughter. Lets face it, if even our bunch of criminal incompetents in the commons can see through it it must be pretty poor.

  14. forthurst
    September 1, 2013

    We can only hope that Obama now regrets his foolish ‘Red Line’ threat and will inform his colleagues in Congress accordingly. There are far too many people in Congress however who are wholly sympathetic to the wider neocon agenda for the Middle East.

    I would challenge legislators on both sides of the Atlantic to distinguish between an actual use of chemical weapons by Assad and a conspiracy to frame him with false intelligence. It is all very well appealing to our emotions with pictures of dead children, but the issue is not that it is deplorable but who did it, quite apart from the wider issue of how a salvo of tomahawk missiles will salve either the situation or our own consciences. Its the ‘rebels’ who have already been caught by the Turkish authorities with sarin gas; its the ‘rebels’ who have been decapitating Christian priests.

    Let us remind ourselves of the multiple instances of falsified intelligence used by Blair and Bush to to take us into Iraq, and why has there been no discussion of the subsequent dire ongoing consequences of our initial interventions in Iraq, Kosovo and Libya in mitigating our self-righteousness? Are our legislators only interested in responding to what they are served up by the MSM; if that is so, then they are according far too much power to these organisations.

    Ron Paul has stated quite openly that he does not believe the ‘intelligence’ of Assad’s poison gas use; this is a man of very high integrity and stature for which only a conspiracy of the MSM and the Republican Party hierarchy could successfully block from the 2012 nomination.

    Assad had no possible motive for using poison gas and claiming that he is mad and bad will simply not suffice.

  15. Anonymous
    September 1, 2013

    There is also the minor fact that it is not in Britain’s national interest to intervene – other than to stay the US’s bestest friend.

    If you want to know what Americans really think of us look at the dishonest tripe that comes out of Hollywood and the fact that they always portray wicked people with English accents.

    The USA has done serious harm to our industries and democracy and is most definitely NOT our friend.

    I expect us to experience some economic fall-out over this issue.

    1. Anonymous
      September 1, 2013

      BP shows us that President Obama does not deserve our loyalty.

    2. forthurst
      September 1, 2013

      “The USA has done serious harm to our industries and democracy and is most definitely NOT our friend.”

      Enoch Powell worked that out during WWII. He told Eden after had become an MP. Unfortunately, it was only after Suez that Eden understood what Powell had meant. Obviously the Tory party does not have a folk memory.

  16. Denis Cooper
    September 1, 2013

    Well, as usual this ignores the niggling constitutional nicety that Congress has not yet declared war as required by that boring old US Constitution, so arguably the President has no legal authority to engage in any acts of war.

    Article I Section 8 here:


    “1. The Congress shall have Power …

    … 11: To declare War … ”

    Interestingly, the previous sub-section also says:

    “10: To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations”

    and so arguably the proposal to “punish” Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons contrary to “international law” also falls with the purview of Congress.

    Of course it would be possible to argue to the contrary that Obama was not “declaring war”, he was just doing it without any formal declaration, and that what he proposes is not really “war”, etc, and wikipedia has an interesting though as always not necessarily entirely reliable article around this:


    I note this in particular:

    “James Madison reported that in the Federal Convention of 1787, the phrase “make war” was changed to “declare war” in order to leave to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks but not to commence war without the explicit approval of Congress.”

    Clearly that change to the wording opened the door to acts of war much wider than was expected at the time, one of the problems with having a codified constitution.

  17. Neil Craig
    September 1, 2013

    I find a very this a very interesting constitutional convergence between the US & UK.

    When they set up their constitution they specifically reserved the power to declare war to Congress whereas Britain retained the royal prerogative (in effect PM’s prerogative) to declare war.

    However since at least the time of the Kosovo war the constitution has been ignored on this matter. At the same time over Iraq this prerogative was diluted here.

    We are now in the situation where, from both countries having the UK constitutional position, both countries now have the US one. I think that is a good thing for both countries and for a world where international law should mean something more than an excuse used by big governments.

    1. cosmic
      September 1, 2013

      Formally declaring war has somewhat gone out of fashion. We have exclusion zones, military action, military advisers, support for freedom fighters, and it’s all more vague.

      Some actions might be be described as war in retrospect, but not at the time.

  18. Denis Cooper
    September 1, 2013

    I was amused to see Obama claim that the US is the world’s oldest democracy.

    Of course one can argue about this interminably – was Athens really a democracy, when it excluded women and slaves, unlike the … oh no, so did the US as well … or were the Icelanders first with their Althing, but apparently the Sicilians now claim to have got there first … but the US will certainly come some way down the list.

  19. Peter Stroud
    September 1, 2013

    Missile strikes can kill innocent as well as guilty, and harden the resolve of bad men, such as Assad. But, in this case it can also give a sign to the opposition’s al Qeda wing that their sworn enemies, the Americans, must be so stupid, as to be supporting them.

  20. Francis Lankester
    September 1, 2013

    I hope very much that the HOC will reconsider-a line has been crossed and with China & Russia (two cruel states which pretend to be democratic but are dictatorships) can veto UN action then US and UK enforcement of basic civilised values is essential and legal. We keep asking why other countries, especially in the Middle East are not democratic. Then when people in those countries demonstrate for their freedom and are shot down or tortured we do nothing. People demonstrated peacefully, were murdered in the street but still went out to protest, such is the human longing to be free. We will enjoy a good meal tonight and sleep in our own beds securely in a free (more or less) country. Many Syrian people cannot do this.

    1. forthurst
      September 1, 2013

      “Then when people in those [ME] countries demonstrate for their freedom and are shot down or tortured we do nothing.”

      That’s because the US consistently vetoes UN Resolutions in condemnation of their actions.

  21. Chris
    September 1, 2013

    Can you confirm that you voted against the government on this, or just abstained? Some newspaper reports state the latter.

    I have set out in detail what I said, and did and why.

    1. Chris
      September 1, 2013

      Sorry, but can you tell me in which of your posts you give details of whether you abstained or voted against the government? I have been unable to find this specific answer.

      Reply In the discussion of the recent posts about the Syrian vote.

  22. Vanessa
    September 1, 2013

    “Strike decision on ice…..” Interesting to see Obama not quite so keen on gung-ho action now his “best friend” is not going to be holding his hand. It would be sweet justice if the Congress vote went against him.

    Presidents have to accept that they are not Gods and are not always right, that includes PMs. The arrogance of these two men who think they can go against the people who put them where they are without so much as a “do you mind….?” “I hope you agree with me….?! not to their electorate.

    We may even find out that Assad is telling the truth and it was not him who used these chemicals. Why do governments nowadays make decisions on almost no evidence and then say it is THE RIGHT THING to do?

  23. Georgina Dean
    September 1, 2013

    Why is it that the Arab league are expecting other countries to intervene and to get the blame and hate that comes with it. They are in a much better position to help curb the fighting. Would it make the area worse if it was Muslim against muslin to stop what was going on. Easier to blame the crusader for what could blow up into a very nasty business.

  24. Leslie Singleton
    September 2, 2013

    I’ve just read Hague’s half rear-ended latest pronouncements. Whether he is right or not he had no need to make a big deal out of his views on the possibility of a change of mind. Personally I do not see how he could be so daft. He is the one who has misjudged everything on Syria from the start and should get out just as Mr Farage says. He may yet find that the Commons disagrees with him, whether he likes it or not, perhaps via the noxious and positively eel-like Miliband deciding, perhaps even being forced by his party, to change his approach, not out of the National interest but in hopes of further embarrassing the Government. It is simply ridiculous for Hague to have ignored statements from senior figures in this way especially as we do not even know for certain who used the gas. The present talk about the Weapons Inspectorate is further baloney, for unlike in the case of Iraq there cannot be a scintilla of doubt that WMD’s not only exist but have been used and we do not seem to be very far along the track of proof as to who used them, indeed the Inspectors have not even been asked to try and assess this absolutely essential point.

    Reply Those of us who requested the debate and vote and who made the case against military intervention did so on the merits of the issue, not for some other base motive. I did not see Mr Farage in the debate or vote, as of course he did not win a Westminster seat last time so was unable to help.

    1. JimF
      September 2, 2013

      Farage might not have won a Westminster seat, indeed he might not have stood for one, but it doesn’t stop him commenting. The same goes for any other voter. “You work for us”, remember, not the other way round!

      Reply Mr Farage stood in Buckingham, where he came third with no Conservative or Labour candidates standing. Of course he can comment and often does. My point is a simpler one – if you want anything said and done in Westminster you need elected MPs to do it. That is why some of us took the trouble to get elected, and why we then had a voice and a vote when it came to this crucial issue of war.

      1. Chris
        September 2, 2013

        Conservative MPs would do well to listen to Nigel Farage’s excellent commentary on why UKIP opposes military action in Syria (BBC News interview prior to debate) for some straightforward talk which resonates with the public very strongly. (reference to unchecked UKIP website removed ed)
        Even if some Conservative MPs apparently dislike and belittle Nigel Farage it would be wise for them to actually listen to Farage and learn why he resonates so much with the electorate – honesty and common sense are key. Furthermore, it would be wise to acknowledge that one doesn’t need MPs in the H of C to influence public opinion very significantly and to inflict very serious damage to the electoral prospects of David Cameron’s Conservative Party. Farage and UKIP are a very significant force in politics and, unpleasant as it may be for some Conservative MPs, this has to be acknowledged.


      2. Leslie Singleton
        September 2, 2013

        Comment on Reply–Given that you appear to have missed it, Mr Farage was on Any Questions, but I suspect you know that. MP’s do not have a monopoly of wisdom just because they have been elected, very very very far from it. And in case you really are unaware on the point, Mr Farage was unequivocally against military action in Syria.

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